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NIJ is a research institution, but at the end of the day we exist to serve law enforcement and other criminal justice practitioners. My biggest priority as NIJ director is to ensure that our work is relevant and responsive to the needs of the field, and never lives in an ivory tower. This thematic issue of the NIJ Journal discusses some of the many ways NIJ has committed to advancing the law enforcement profession through science, from building in-house law enforcement research capacity to understanding the ways that artificial intelligence (AI), body-worn cameras, and other technologies have transformed criminal justice.
Officer safety, health, and wellness is a major area of focus. Motor vehicle crashes are consistently the leading cause of officer line-of-duty deaths. One article in this issue discusses how NIJ has teamed up with federal, state, and local partners to conduct reviews of these fatalities. The reviews are an opportunity to learn from these tragedies and generate recommendations that will help prevent their recurrence. Preliminary evaluation findings have also found a comprehensive motor vehicle safety program in Las Vegas to significantly reduce crash and injury rates.
Firearms continue to be one of the most dangerous threats faced by law enforcement officers. Ballistic-resistant body armor has saved thousands of officers’ lives, and NIJ’s Body Armor Performance Standards Program has set minimum standards for this armor, conducted testing to ensure compliance, and sponsored research to improve armor. We are currently developing updated standards, set to release in 2019, to ensure continued high-quality armor and increased officer safety.
Technology has infiltrated and transformed our lives — and criminal justice. As technologies emerge and are implemented, research and rigorous evaluation often struggle to keep pace. In this issue, we discuss what the evidence tells us — and where gaps remain — about body-worn cameras. A second article describes the benefits and potential drawbacks of two innovative ways to process digital evidence. An additional article explains NIJ’s AI research portfolio, AI applications in criminal justice, and the great potential of AI in promoting public safety and reducing crime.
I am constantly advocating for research and connection to the field. Two of our articles discuss the value of building in-house research capacity within a law enforcement agency. I want to thank one of our NIJ Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) scholars, Lt. Jason Potts, for writing about his firsthand experience leading in-house research projects, including randomized controlled trials, at the Vallejo Police Department. Another LEADS scholar, Maj. Wendy Stiver from Dayton, Ohio, recently joined NIJ part-time at our Washington, D.C., headquarters as our first law enforcement practitioner-in-residence. I am eager to see the perspective, insight, and energy she will bring to NIJ’s work.
With more than 18,000 unique agencies across the country, law enforcement is a diverse and complex field. Rigorous research and evaluation studies, as well as replication of these studies, help us understand what works — and what doesn’t — to help us best allocate limited resources and improve officer safety, health, and wellness. Law enforcement is one of NIJ’s most important stakeholders and I’m proud to release this issue detailing some of the many ways NIJ research has affected various facets of the field. I give my thanks for what they do to advance public safety across the country.
David B. Muhlhausen, Ph.D.
Director, National Institute of Justice
About This Article
This article was published as part of NIJ Journal issue number 280, December 2018.